The Problems With Adventure Time

The second in a trilogy, in which I bring some heavy criticsm to a favourite show of mine


Okay, so now I’ve proved to myself I do like Adventure Time it’s time to tear it a new one. Or at least put into words a few obvious problems it has that plague its most recent seasons which should serve as a primer for further discussions. It should be noted, that Adventure Time is not the only one guilty of these problems, it’s just that it set such a high standard and did kick off that wonderful cartoon renaissance I talked about a while back. Adventure Time is so far the cartoon of the decade. And if it’s to keep that title all its warts should be given just as much scrutiny as its best parts.

Characters are not punished:
Jake is a god awful Father and Princess Bubblegum is a cruel dictator. To name the two most obvious issues here. So starting with the latter, Princess Bubblegum constantly experiments, abuses and belittles her people. Once they finally wise up to the fact they can depose her, it doesn’t last long and she returns declaring them idiots. There is no change there, she hasn’t learnt a lesson, it’s framed as if the candy people have. That lesson being you shouldn’t self-govern and leave it all to Bubblegum. Which from an outside perspective is frightening but she gets away with it.

Now Jake being an awful father. He ignores his children until he is forced to interact with them or when they appear in his life. He effectively runs away from that responsibility and it never comes back to bite him. His partner welcomes him with open arms whenever he appears, only one of his children ever calls him out on it, and that’s resolved within that episode with the child being put at fault. It’s another horrifying think that just seems to be pushed aside to hold some form of status quo.

Both of these behaviours are normalised in the context of the show by presenting them as funny, we are expected to laugh at these characters when they do these things, but are given no narrative payoff to their actions, they simply are this way, and won’t change and other characters won’t ask them to change.

Relationships aren’t believable:
As a tangent, why are Lady Rainicorn and Jake a couple? With Jake practically ignoring her for large spans of time, ignoring their children. Leaving literally a day after they’re born. I don’t even really think they set up how they met, even in passing. And when they are together it seems a little forced and well, sterile. It’s a little depressing to think about in hindsight.

Plot points are not dealt with or expanded:
This one has a very obvious example. Remember when Finn lost his arm. And everyone was congratulating Adventure Time on the cleverness of its visual story telling as it had been implied several times before the episode that he would lose his arm due to some perverse fate. And then everyone was hypothesising about the new status quo Finn would have to adapt too, with a very obvious disability and how that wou…… or a bee could have sex with his arm 4 episodes later and void the whole thing. Adventure has this issue that it can’t sit still, or think through one specific idea, it is there for 1 or 2 episodes, if you’re lucky it’s 2 right next to each other, if you’re unlucky there was 5 episodes of filler and sometimes it just never appears again or is even recognised by the characters later down the line.

It’s a shame that after basically any large development, the show will inevitably return to a status quo with the characters vastly unchanged from the experience

The world doesn’t progress around the characters:
Everything in Adventure Time appears to happen in a small bubble, all on it’s lonesome. Events from one episode never seem to have a dripping effect on other people and often aren’t bought up again. It’s almost as if people forgot previous adventures leading to a disjointed overall narrative. I could take whole chunks of recent adventure time, reshuffle the episodes and you would never know they were out of order.

And now I think I’m out of gripes, probably because these are all fairly big gripes, and I’m loathe to spend another 1000 words just repeating what I’ve already said so to finish……

It should be noted that, yes, all of these issues raised are non-issues in various episodes, for example whilst Jake and Princess Rainicorn’s relationship is alien, Marceline’s and Ice Kings is incredibly well done.  What I’ve done here is point out that Adventure Times biggest issue is its inconsistency, one episode will be stellar, the next will fall flat and the next will be inconsequential to anything. And it’s obviously not that it can’t be done, as next week I follow up this post with, the more I think about it, my favourite cartoon, Regular Show and how it deals with all these issues.

My Favourite Adventures

The first in a triology of articles. I think back on my favourite episodes of Adventure Time.

Let us take a break from all this talk of anime and turn our attention back to the west. So lets kick off with a normal list of my 10 favourite Adventure time episodes, before next week’s post in which I tear Adventure Time apart. I thought about doing a top 10, but I felt that I only have a clear number 1 favourite episode so I’ll deliver that one with a flourish whilst the rest can live on as mostly equals. So let us get stuck in. SPOILERS AHEAD.

Holly Jolly Secrets:

holly jolly secrets.jpg

The only time adventure time did anything vaguely Christmassy and it serves as one of the few gabs in the earlier series to show that something interesting was going on with adventure time that far eclipsed what other cartoons at the time were doing. It focuses on Finn and Jake watching some VHS tapes they found whilst exploring and stumble across tapes that were made by Ice King before he became Ice King. What follows is a 22 minute special that humanizes a character that was previously used as punch line. Canonising the fact that his prince obsession stems from the desire and then regret he felt towards his fiancée Betty whilst his Ice Crown drove him slowly insane. It’s a stereotypical twist that in hindsight is seen coming, but, the fact that this episode was made after we were used to seeing the world of adventure time in Black and White, it begins Finn, Jakes and the shows Sympathetic treatment of the Ice King. From here they are quicker to talk him down than punch him down.

I Remember You AND Simon and Marcy:

I’m sticking these two together because whilst they are a season apart in air date they are best watched together. They both focus on the relationship between Ice King and Marceline, a pairing that has been hinted at for a very long time but always left a little on the side. I Remember You brings this into full view as Ice King visits her to get help with some music production, mistakenly using a letter he wrote to Marceline as lyrics she uses it as a chance to try to reconnect with him. It’s a poignant and Slow episode, Finn and Jake appear briefly but then are quickly shuffled off to some other place so all focus is placed on Marcy and Ice King. The song is one of my favourite from the show and is wonderfully incorporated into the development of two characters that have become increasingly multi-faceted over the shows long run time.

Simon and Marcy follows on from this episode and features one of the only episodes set in the post-apocalypse world that the world of OOO evolves from. Simon has taken Marcy under his protection acting as a father figure for her. Fearing the use of his crown but becoming increasingly dependent on it to help Marcy get over a cold. It is another touching entry in the show and forms more backstory for these two characters.



Continuing with a focus on Marceline we have the 8 part extravaganza Stakes. Focusing upon Marceline’s loss of her vampire powers thanks to Princess Bubblegum. She then gains them again after having to defeat a set of vampires she once hunted down. The song repeated throughout the whole block of episodes “Everything Stays” is about how things can be exactly the same but a different perspective can change your perception of it. Marceline chooses to lose her powers, but then gains them again in the exact same way she had first got them, finally coming to terms with who she is. It also offers a brief glimpse at presumably Marceline’s mother, where the song “Everything Stays” comes from. As I’m pretty sure I’ve said on this blog previously, Stakes is a because microcosm of everything that made Adventure Time great and is one of my go to examples for when this show proved it could be clever.

Jake the Brick:

This episode is all about taking it easy and just watching the world go by. Jake is living out his fantasy of being a brick in a rundown shed far in the wilderness and he begins narrating what he sees to Finn via walkie talkie. The whole episode is just John DiMaggio putting his David Attenborough hat on whilst Finn places Jake on the radio for the entire candy kingdom to listen to. It’s another slow episode in which not much happens but the animators have a lot of fun with it, displaying character through action not speech. It’s just nice a calm, with a beautiful sunset wrapping up the whole package.

The Comet:

You know what children need to learn about, existentialism and cosmicism, both schools of thought focusing on pointing out the lack of meaning in life and in the wider world. The comet brings this to full front as Finn’s believe in a natural order to things is challenged by the vast emptiness and pointlessness of space. His dad represents this with his aimless appearance in a giant moth, it goes where it pleases, not driven by anything, just that it exists. Finally a god entity turns up and offers Finn an existence as a higher being. It highlights the fact that there is no good or bad choice, just that he has a choice. He declines the offer and his father accepts. At the end of the episode Finn holds onto his believe in a cosmic order because, in the empty and pointless existence, it is up to the individual to find a meaning themselves.

And that is why I love this episode, that it teaches children this lesson, that life is sometimes crap and sometimes great, it has no meaning and that’s fine.

Frost & Fire:

When looking at Adventure Time as a whole it’s clear to viewers that Finns character growth is directly linked to him going through puberty, the show is about him growing up, the ups, the downs and the very messy bits. This episode is one of the messy bits, and I’m not going to sugar coat it or try and write around the fact. Finn has a wet dream about his girlfriend Flame Princess in this episode. Due to a lack of any context for it however, he thinks that it felt nice so goes out of his way to have it again. Costing his relationship with Flame Princess as he manipulated her into fighting Ice King. This episode truly shows how immature Finn is in things of life, but it doesn’t stigmatise him for it. It shows what would happen if a young boy had no guidance on the changes his body goes through. I’ve said it time and again, Adventure Time is possibly the most accurate representation of puberty available on television. It’s kind of fascinating.

Flute Spell:

Well that puberty has to finish somewhere and at some point, Finn slowly matures into a young man at age 16. His maturity is seen in this episode “Flute Spell” in how he deals with a possible relationship with Huntress Wizard. He spends part of the episode thinking of courting her, then realises she has someone else she’s interested in, so helps her out. At the end she reveals that whilst she is interested in him, it’s impractical for them to date due to both being to adventurous. A younger Finn would go back to his routes and mope everywhere. But his newer, more mature Finn accepts her decision and just keeps going with life.

What Was Missing? :

Now we get to an episode I can say is my third favourite. There are a handful of episodes where we see the characters deal with something so low stake it is more akin to them doing nothing. They’re wonderful character pieces and this episode is no exception. A door lord has stolen personal treasures from Finn, Jake, Marceline, BMO and Princess Bubblegum and they must sing a song to unlock it. And it is hands down one of my favourite songs of the show. “What am I to You?” features Finn questioning people’s perception of him and if they are the same to how he sees himself. As well as how personal treasures are not as precious as personal memories.

Little Brother:

Another epidsode on this list that doesn’t feature Finn or Jake. It begins to focus on Shelby (the worm that lives in Jakes viola) and the brother he suddenly gains. Wanting to raise a good brother he imparts the simple binary mora of good and evil. And with that, the newley christened Kevin is off into the roots of the tree house and into an episode that is a condensed down fantasy epic, following his trials inside the tree that makes up Finn and Jake’s house.

And now, for my favourite episode of Adventure Time, and it is an odd one to choose

Card Wars:

card wars.jpg

Yes, the simplistic episode about Finn and Jake playing some really nerdy card game. And from that simplicity it’s absolutely perfect. I’d do a more in depth explanation of the episode, but it really is the two of them sitting down and playing a game, the stakes are low, if non-existent and the only conflict in the episode is that Jake is both a sore loser and a sore winner with Finn having to try and placate him. As a guy bought up on board games it’s just nice to see two brothers sat down enjoying each other’s companies. It’s simple, it’s slow and it’s beautifully touching and is still, to me, the height of this show.

Adventures End: The Closing of the Cartoon Renaissance

“With a great pang in my gut, I guess I should start looking forward”

“Adventure time is ending in 2018” or words to that effect are what greeted me after coming back from a long day at university last week and I’ll be honest, I couldn’t be happier. Now before people sharpen their pitchforks and light some torches hear me out. I absolutely love Adventure Time it’s a show that I started watching when it was only in its second season 6 years ago. It shifted my perception of cartoons, from something to be enjoyed to a form of study and placed me on the path I find myself now. It reminded me that I could be both a kid and a grown up, that cartoons were something I could keep watching even as I progressed into adulthood.

And it wasn’t just myself that this show seemed to affect, it has been a mark on pop culture ever since its release, finding a home across all age groups and across all media forms. It has become this living, breathing cross-platform behemoth. With episodes covering everything from loss, depression, existentialism, terror, horror,  young love, old love and even going so far as to display a young boy going through the trails of puberty with no guide but coming out the end a better person.

This is the Adventure Time I want to remember, a clever, cute, poignant show, that has successfully tapped into every emotion I had. And now that the announcement has come out of its end. Hopefully it’s the one that will leave us. I can’t have been the only person that noticed how tired this show has been getting. With the show hopping from plot point to plot point, setting up these ideas that could very well fuel half a season or more on their own which end up forgotten about in the next episode (consider this a teaser for a blog post about my issues with Adventure Time). Even the most recent season started on an incredibly strong note with the 8 part mini-series “Stakes” which was like a condensed chunk of everything Adventure Time has done great rolled into one amazing package. Before it returned to its sadly humdrum roots.

This brings me nicely to the title of this post. It is pretty easy to claim that it’s Adventure Time that started this “Cartoon renaissance” we have found ourselves in, with Steven Universe being, arguably, an off shoot of Adventure Times themes and general design philosophy (also helped by Rebecca Sugar being one of the best story boardists and writers they had before she moved to heading Stevens Universe) Shows like Gravity Falls appearing, proving that a show themed around never telling the audience everything can grip kids and adults alike. Whilst Over the Garden Wall, proves that a wickedly dark, macabre, gothic cartoon can reach prominence in todays landscape.

However, it isn’t really the announcement that Adventure Time will be ending 2 years from now that prompted me to discuss this in more depth, I was content to just say “good decision” and be done with it, saving it for a larger post later down the line. What makes me declare the true end of the Cartoon Renaissance is the loss of Regular Show which had the quite announcement that it will be ending within the next year on its 8th season. This comes a massive surprise because whilst I felt that Adventure Time has begun to stagnate, Regular Show continues to impress me with every episode I watch. Its 7th season was strong throughout, and the season 8 opener is a different approach to the shows themes but still manages to stay true to what made it great. Writing this I can’t actually think of a bad episode of Regular Show, sure there are some worse than others, but nothing I didn’t enjoy and it will be a true loss to see this strong show disappear.

However, a larger piece on Regular Show is something for another day. To wrap up this article that should’ve only a 300 word news roundup before I spoil a bunch of articles I have planned. Regular Show, is, in my opinion, the cartoon of the decade. Adventure Time ushered in the Cartoon Renaissance with a great display of colour and gusto, but it feels like Regular Show has been the one just slightly out of sight for the past few years, pushing the boundaries of what a cartoon can be ever so slightly further, when Adventure time made one giant leap every 10 episodes or so Regular show would be just ahead with almost every episode doing something new or different.

So with a great pang in my gut, I guess I should start looking forward to what fills the places of these two great shows. After the renaissance comes the enlightenment after all, so more should be on the way. Especially with a show like Steven Universe shining the way forward, We Bare Bears showing signs of growing into something more and Star vs The forces of Evil reminding me that whatever monkey runs the TV animation section of Disney has some taste it’s shaping up to be an interesting few years. Especially with Pendleton Ward soon to be free of the shackles of Adventure Time and I presume eager to start up something new.

Regular Show ending:

Adventure Time ending:

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